Man driving in europe for the first time

7 Annoying Things to Know When Driving in Europe in a European Car

Are you planning a road trip around Europe, or just wanting to rent a car for a few days on your trip to Paris?

Driving in Europe vs driving in the US can be a strange experience. European cars can feel like completely different beasts, and that’s not to mention the roads. There are different rules, some countries drive on the other side of the road, some signage is completely different, and some cars are only usable in certain countries.

To help you with your cross-continental driving adventure, here’s a bit of a European travel checklist with things to know before driving a European car through European cities.

What do you need to know about European cars in Europe?

● First things first, can you drive stick? There are a lot more manual/stick shift vehicles in Europe than there are in the United States, so if you can’t drive stick and you’re looking at renting or purchasing a car, particularly on a lower budget, establish if there are any automatic cars available. Otherwise, you better learn quickly.

● European cars tend to be a lot smaller. This is to make city driving and parking easier to handle. If you’re driving more on highways and through the countryside, you may want to consider a larger vehicle.Otherwise, small is good.

Do you have an international drivers license?

When you’re making your travel plans, consider an International Driving Permit. Driving in Europe with US licenses is acceptable in most countries, but a select few disallow it. Make sure you look into what countries you can and cannot visit with your US driver’s license, and keep in mind, an international license can come in handy either way.

When you’re traveling to non-English speaking countries, they can make interactions with police easier and help you identify yourself when necessary.

An international driver’s license application is cheap and easy to fill out, so getting one is not really a big deal, especially when they can save you a lot of trouble.

Parking can be tough

Parking in most cities is incredibly difficult and can be extremely expensive. A strong recommendation is to park at your hotel, Airbnb, or wherever you’re staying, and use public transport to get around the city. Public transport in most European cities is efficient and easy to use. It’s generally cheaper than driving into the city, anyway.

Are you crossing borders?

Be aware if you’re traveling between Eastern Europe and Western Europe, or between EU and non-EU countries. Many rental companies don’t allow their cars to go between these spaces, so make sure you ask and confirm where you can travel with the company.

When driving across Europe, routes may need to change to avoid the countries your car isn’t able to visit.

Do you require a clean air certificate?

Are you traveling through Paris, Grenoble, Lyon, or another low emission zone? If so, you are required to have a clean air certificate to prove your vehicle creates an acceptable amount of emissions. Most EU car dealers will be aware of this, and will actually provide these for you, but always check to be certain.

Refueling your car can be more complex than it seems

When you’re refueling in Europe, it can be a bit more complicated than you’d think. Many cars (that you wouldn’t expect) operate on diesel, so always ask your rental/dealer, and remember European gas is in liters. Some countries have wide distances between fuel stations, so try to keep a full tank throughout your travels. This will be particularly handy if you get lost.

Road rules can vary hugely

You’d think countries under one union would have standardized road rules, but this isn’t the case. The road rules in Europe can change dramatically from place to place. In Italy, red lights are considered optional. Some countries require your headlights to be on at all times, most countries ban cell-phone use, require reflective jackets as well as first aid kits. In France, you even need a breathalyzer on board.

The point being made is this

The things you need for European driving will vary from place to place, so always ask before you drive into a country and get caught out. Here’s a country by country breakdown of European countries so you can stay informed and not get caught in a misfortunate situation

Driving through Europe is an incredible experience and definitely a must-do for every traveler. Keep calm, stay informed, follow the rules, and remember that things can take a few days to adjust. You’ll get it eventually.

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Alex Duval

“Alex Duval works for The Toy Shop, a European car specialist providing servicing and a full range of genuine parts for European vehicles”

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